AH, MAN A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE, American musician, recorded just a few months before he died in 2009 By Brian Rademaekers
When I started covering music in Philadelphia in 2007, my beat—the city’s crumbling post-industrial river wards—felt like a veritable nexus of weird folk and psychedelic experimentation. The Espers clan and their compound, Fern Knight, Fursaxa, and heavy-hitters like Bardo Pond were all there, churning out a storm of beautiful, strange music that seemed in part a product of the ancient, twisted alleyways of Fishtown and Kensington.
Here, Jack Rose was the benevolent, unassuming King—a master set apart from his peers by a massive presence and an indomitable, mystical talent that elevated him from mere musician to magician. He was a dark alchemist, transforming calloused flesh, polished wood and taut steel into the intoxicating, intricate worlds of sound that were his music. Not that Jack — Jack the giant, hulking Virginian — would ever presume to wear a crown; it was just something that he brought into the room with him, disarming all with a humble warmth offset by a blunt, caustic confidence that he wielded like a knife at just the right moments. These days, most of the musicians from that scene are gone from the neighborhood, though none as gone as Jack.
When I first heard Jack’s 2005 album Kensington Blues, I was thunderstruck, lost in awe that such a masterpiece not only existed, but that it was made in my time, by a man whose elbows polished the same bar counters as mine. Listening to Jack’s recordings was great [see sidebar for a complete discography] but best of all was seeing Jack live, spreading his gospel in church halls or little clubs or living rooms and, finally, along the banks of the Delaware River for a summer concert series shortly before he died.
Watching him amble up to his chair with guitar in hand signaled the start of near-religious experience. He would hunch over the instrument, cock his head to the side and, with closed eyes, unleash wild syncopated layers of rhythms, leaving listeners rapt in a sort of devastated trance. Here was this giant bearded man suddenly becoming seamlessly enmeshed in his guitar to create these idiosyncratic spells that were at once as delicate as flowers and as forceful as hurricanes. Seeing that miracle in the flesh, there was nothing else like it in the world. For me, it was like being a jazz freak in the ’40s and living down the street from Charlie Parker.
So began a years-long obsession. I felt compelled to document this genius quietly living in our midst. And Jack obliged. It never seemed to bother him that some reporter from a little local paper was always pestering him, asking for details about a show or politely begging for an advance copy of a record. In that way, Jack betrayed the appearance of a dominating, cocksure master and revealed a man with a very big heart.
My pretext for interviewing Jack in the summer of 2009 was his forthcoming long-player on Thrill Jockey, Luck in the Valley. Jack was elated. He and his wife, Laurie, had just bought a tidy little brick rowhouse a few blocks from the city’s blasted Port Richmond waterfront. He bragged about his new car, a Honda that he loved for its efficiency in carrying his guitars from gig to gig. He raved about a pizza joint he’d found down the street, about how quiet his block was. To him, the Thrill Jockey release was the milestone he’d been awaiting, a culmination of years of hard work and mastery that meant he could finally say he was making good bread on the merit of his music.
For three hours, he let me follow him around the house, tape recorder in tow, as he smoked and poured tea and pulled LPs from his wall of records. He was a man satisfied, a musician reveling in the feeling that his art was finally about to find the place in the world that it deserved.
When Jack died a few months later, I groped through the shock, looking for some way to respond to the ugly, gaping hole that had so suddenly appeared, and decided on transcribing the whole of our conversation from that summer day on Ontario Street. That tape is presented here, and captures Jack in a bright mood at the peak of his career, ruminating on everything from his first lessons to his labor on “Kensington Blues” to the joy of landing the Thrill Jockey deal.
C and D: Two fellas reason together about some new records
D: We have some severe time and space restrictions today because there’s 25 records to examine and I only brought four beers. C: [disbelieving] I told you all week. D: Yes, well. We’ll have to be efficient and precise, like the German defense. C: Always with the soccer metaphors when he’s supposed to bring the beer. D: [looks at stack of CDs] Hmm, I like this pitch. [smiles broadly, uncaps a Foster’s] Come on man! It’s time for kickoff.
MARVIN GAYE The Real Thing: In Performance, 1964-1981 DVD (Hip-O/Motown/etc) D: Marvin Gaye, the sweetpeacelovevibetenormaster of all time. C: Sometimes things really are essential, and this nine-dollar DVD is one of those times. Or things. Anyways, the reason I’ve been watching this all week long is pretty obvious. There’s nobody like Marvin, no one even close; it’s a blessing just to watch him lip synch. D: [grabs DVD case] Give me that. Especially when it’s Marvin duetting with Tammi Terrell at something called “Swinging Sounds of Expo 67,” singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in a futuristic phone booth under a plastic dome with a people mover going by in the background. C: Look at those Dentyne smiles. It’s like a commerical for some future utopia where they are the fertility king and queen. D: [thoughtfully] A world where you’re not afraid to have a baby C: Hey, you’ll like this: the a capella option lets you hear Marvin singing in the shower. D: No it doesn’t. C: Okay it’s actually just isolated studio tracks. Beautiful. He really can make you swoon with just a voice and a snapped finger. That’s all he needed. D: Very efficient. C: “War is not the answer/for only love can conquer hate… we’ve go to find a way/to get some understanding here today”—man, if you sing that today, you’re called a master of the obvious, and yet maybe it’s only a lovesinger who can bring the super-commentary that lasts. He reminds us there’s better things to do with our time. D: [musing] Lovers and poets make the best peace advocates. C: This is footage from the film Save the Children— D: —which should be released on DVD immediately— C: —which includes live renditions of “What’s Going On/What’s Happening Brother” from a 1972 concert where they did the whole album, and you get Marvin at the piano and the legendary James Jamerson on bass guitar. D: [sipping beer] Unbelievable. Total butterland. C: Total ethnographic film of Black America in the early ‘70s: broken windowed skylines and gang grafitti, soul food joints and black pride bookstores, men in dashikis, women in flares and kids in corduroys with spaghetti on their faces, street basketball and barbecue, balloons and checker pants and sweaters. D: Excellent fashion! C: He sings like his voice is a horn—and his voice actually has the grain of one. So amazing. Plus there’s multiple appearances on the Dinah Shore show—[notices puzzled D]—that was an afternoon TV show for bored housewives back in the ‘70s. D: That was the time before they started making all the women work all the time too, in addition to the men. What happened? C: [ignoring] He talks about What’s Goin On: “I don’t recall much about making it. I feel it was very personal, very divine. I don’t hardly remember writing the songs, it was like I was in some sort of other dimension when we did it, so I know it was a very spiritual.” We could spend weeks talking about everything on here: the polyester jumpsuit future-Chic-soul-P-funk— D: Somewhere The Juan Maclean is crying. C: —about getting down on the moon with floor fog that is the promotional video for “A Funky Space Reincarnation”— “COME ON BABY, let’s go peace loving and check out this new smoke/Naw this thing I got, it ain’t classified as dope/Smoke I got from Venus/Have had it all week, it’s getting old/come on and try this new thing with me baby….” D: This song is my new national anthem. C: And your new wardrobe, if the world is lucky.
Eagles of Death Metal Peace Love Death Metal (Rekords Rekords/AntAcidAudio) C: [singing along to “Kiss the Devil”]: “Who’ll love the devil?/Who’ll love his song?/I will love the devil and his song!” D: Ha! This is party-starting rock n roll music! They should’ve called it, “There’s Beer in the Fridge. C: No doubt. Doubtless. No doubt about it. Doubt-free. [sings along:] “I will kiss the devil on his tongue!” D: He is the male Peaches! C: The singer-guitar player Jesse ‘the Devil’ Hughes has the best moustache going in rock, and he knows it. I can hear him now: “C & D, you’ve been rocked by The Moustache.” Have you seen his cape? D: This cannot be. What year is this? It’s like Mick wearing the Omega at Altamont. Totally Rolling Stones. C: Jesse is Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Josh Homme—he’s the guy from Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age—is just here to do Beat Number Three on every song and help shift some units. They say it’s “Canned Heat vocals with stripper beats” and you can’t beat that description so let’s not even gonna try. It’s a pretty raw recording, sounds like a rehearsal tape with all the talking. D: We will have to subtract points for that. C: Yeah, all that between-song tech talk is the rock equivalent of skits on hip-hop albums. Funny the first time, maybe, but after that? D: Eagles of Death Metal, you were rocking the party, and then you’re talking amongst yourselves about when to come in on the beat?!? Thanks for fucking it up! C: “Speaking in Tongues” is the coolest song. Can you hear that sound? D: Is that a car honking? C: It’s the CD! They mixed it in! Totally brilliant! [singing along] “Toot scoot! Boots! Scoot scoot!” I have no idea what he’s saying but I like it, I like it. I said, I like it.
Pink Grease This Is for Real (Mute) C: Okay, let’s get this party started again… D: It is the Cramps. Wait, it can’t be the Cramps. Is this that “Fire in the disco” band? C: Not it’s not Electric Six, it’s Pink Grease. Which sounds like a nightmare lubricant. Really good name for this band… D: [hearing the riff kick in o “Fever”:] Whoa! They’re the house band for a creepy kind of party. C: This is music for the wasters, and their married friends who are tying one on again, just this once. D: In the right circumstances, this could finish somebody off. This is music for that kind of party where you do something you regret for weeks. [musing] Possibly even for the rest of your life… C: They’ve got a cool thing going on—garage rockin’, good drums, new touches when you don’t see it coming: saxophone, a good chorus, some slide guitar, an out-there keyboard solo. [dreamily] They should tour with the Dirtbombs and Eagles of Death Metal and Peaches and Ween… D: Could someone tell me why there are so many good-rockin’ dance bands right now?
John Wilkes Booze Five Pillars of Soul (Kill Rock Stars) C: Then again, there’s this. D: “John Wilkes Booze”? Terrible name. C: I know. I gave it some time on the hi-fi cuz of the booklet. I mean, how bad can a band that salutes, in text, at length, Albert Ayler, Marc Bolan, Yoko Ono and Citizen Tania be? D: Very, very bad, from the sound of it! C: Is this a Make-Up and Jon Spencer parody band? Talk about putting the high back in high-conceptualism. D: ‘Five pillars of soul”?!? Fake soul is the worst!!! C: I’m embarrassed for these people—they have some cool inspirations and ideas about what they want to do but they don’t have the chops or the instincts to pull it off yet. Maybe they’ll get better… D: They’re from Indiana? HA HA HA HA HA ! C: I’d like to see them try this in New Orleans.
The Thermals Fuckin’ A (Sub Pop) D: [Definitively:] Guided by Voices. But harder, with more of that old piledriver beat. C: It’s actually a whole different band, a trio called the Thermals. I like ‘em. It’s urgent. Reminds me of Lee Renaldo from Sonic Youth, bashing away in his garage with the neighborhood teenagers cutting school. Oops, dude just knocked over the ten-speed. D: [shaking head furiously] I just spilled my beer! C: This guy’s got one of those voices where you don’t care if he doesn’t really sing. 12 songs, 28 minutes. No solos, but it’s not hardcore or screaming emoters. Just cool. He’s determined, he’s holding on. D: These are high-energy super-tight anthems! Where’s the towel? C: [singing along] “Anything you break, you can probably mend/Anything you can feel, you can feel again/Hold tight, remember today.” Shit, those are words to live by. D: Wisdom from a man called Hutch Harris. Thank you, Thermals! Yo don’t have a moustache but you have rocked C & D!
Mission of Burma ONoffON (Matador) C & D: [stunned silence] C: How can it… How did they… D: How can it be this good? C: They haven’t made a record in 22 years… Some of the people in this issue of Arthur were born and grew into adults in the time between Mission of Burma albums. D: They sound hungry and creative. [singing along] “Now I live inside the circle!” C: Inside the circle, but still outside the box. How to describe the pleasures of Burma for the people…hmmm.. well, it IS guitar rock, it has melodies and punch and strange flair, and again, like that Thermals record, there’s a sense of no wasted breath, no gloss, no glamour, just direct intention-into-thought. D: It’s like a greatest-hits record from the last 22 years, except not only were these songs not hits, they weren’t even released!
The Icarus Line Penance Soiree (V2) C: I saw these guys last year. Their singer reminded me of Richard Ashcroft in the vintage Verve days, when they were at their most cosmic and loose and desolate and swaggering… 1995… Skinny dude with cheekbones, just GONE, going for it— D: [hears guitar break in on “Up Against the Wall”] YES! C: —amidst the maelstrom. This one is called “Spit On It.“ Okay, this is what you call RIGHTEOUS SQUALL. Mixed by Alan Moulder, who did stuff with My Bloody Valentine, so there you go… D: [laughing] Alan Moulder spat on it! That’s holy spit. The old Moulder grease… C: [listening to “Spike Island”] See, and just when you think it’s all shaped noise, here comes a song with a solid, almost disco rhythm and a guitar refrain—something to pull you, something to grasp onto. D: They’re an L.A. band. There’s a little Jane’s Addiction in them, isn’t there? Especially in the vocals! C: That’s true. But Perry always had something interesting to say, I don’t know about these guys, I can’t understand a single word he’s singing. D: He’s hiding behind the Wall of Squall. C: Then again… [listening to the beginning of the 9:07-long “Getting Bright at Night”] Well, here we go. D: They bring it down to earth so they can go back into space! C: I just want to tell the people that at 6:15 in this song, this simple thing happens that makes you love rock n roll turned up to overwhelming. I know we were talking about finishing people off earlier, but maybe this is the real Finisher right here. D: Right now, my ears love me. C: Searched, destroyed. Now let’s see if they can write a song on an acoustic guitar.
The Secret Machines Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise) C: Well, they’ve got a good drum sound, that’s certain. But…um… Is he going to do that same tempo for 9 minutes? D: Sounds like it. I think I’ll be needing to smoke some more of those special cocktails for this one. [Leaves room, returns happier.] Ah, now it’s changing. This is good. They’re originally from Texas, this really takes me there, out to the nudist lakes, drinking some Shiners, laying back in the sun with your girl, nobody around, music coming up over the sand from the box, lookin’ up and just tripping out to the great big… big I don’t know.. D: The big Big. C: Yep… C: [repeating lyrics to “Road Leads Where It’s Led” ] “We communicate by semaphore/No language/We’ve got flags of our own.” I like that. D: They’re so laidback, they’re almost out of the pocket. A big cinematic sound with lots of air between the different sounds… C: They’ve been watching Zabriskie Point, I‘m guessing. D: They’ve definitely been visiting the dark side of the moon. Especially on this song [“Pharaoh’s Daughter”]. C: You know it. “Breathe, breathe in the air.” [listening to the concluding/title track] There’s the Neu/Can/Kraftwerk motorik rhythm, done right–this is like Flaming Lips used to sound sometimes, back when they’d let it out a little more when Ronald was in the band… [listening to the song explode around 7:00] Yes! D: Big but not pompous, psychedelic but not goofy. Yes! I nominate these guys to do a co-headline tour with The Icarus Line. C: Good stuff from secret machines and special humans. Thank you again, Texas.
The Veils The Runaway Found (Rough Trade) D: Echo & the Bunnymen? C: Ha! He DOES have a bit of the Ian McCulloch in him. This is a 20-year-old fella from Australia. There’s some real beauts on here, D… [clicks ahead to “The Leavers Dance”] D: Radiohead. Starsailor. C: Yeah, I guess… But listen to those strings come in… it’s so gorgeous. I think sometimes people like us get too caught up in “spot the influence.” It’s one thing when you’re hearing straight, passionless, contrived mimicry—plagiarism—but it’s another when folks’ voices are just…similar. What are they supposed to do? Not sing at all cuz that voice is taken already? D: [thoughtful, agreeing] To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: “A good song is a good song is a good song.” C: Anyways, I think it’s beautiful stuff. There’s some vintage Britpop rave-ups, there’s ringing guitars. There’s some middling tempo numbers, which are hard to do, when you think about it… And there’s these autumnal, oceanside ballads. [listening to “Vicious Traditions”:] You can see how it could get all histrionic and spittle-flying, but he reins it in just right. D: [quietly] So young, and so anguished already…
White Magic Through the Sun Door EP (Drag City) D: At last, a female voice! C: [listening to opening track “One-Note“] This is one of favorite songs of the spring. D: Charging piano! C: It’s serious, but not Tori Amos melodrama. “Some-thing is a-bide-ing!” Hmm… D: “White Magic.” C: Best name since Comets On Fire. Lotsa witchy stuff going on right now, eh? [Listening to “The Gypsies Came Marching After”] Wow here’s another stormer. This is probably referencing Fairport Convention or Incredible String Band or Pentangle but I just don’t know that stuff well enough… I guess you’d call it folk-rock—it does swing, you can move to it—and they use traditional acoustic and electric instruments and so on. D: I like her voice. Strong, feminine, with hints of tenderness and loss. C: This song [“Apocalypse,” the EP’s final track] is a sorta blues groove—it’s like Heart, if they were amazing. D [musing]: PJ Harvey, with flowers and beads in her hair.
Espers Espers (Locust Music) C: More really lovely, absolutely spellbinding boots-over-pants modern two girls-one boy psychedelic chamber folk-rock for you… D: [eyes closed, rapt] My, my, my. C: Reminds me of Damon & Naomi and Ghost. Very, very pretty, and not at all dippy or precious, which is the way these things can so easily go. [listening to “Meadow”] See, cuz they can write actual songs, they’re not just inhabiting a texture or a form… D: It cannot be possible. What woods are all these people coming from? C: They come from the Shire, sire. Actually they come from Philadelphia. D: [listening to “Voices”] There’s no drums, there’s no backbeat, but, [quietly, seriously] I can dig it anyway. Listen to me when I say this: This is music that lifts the veil.
Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. Mantra of Love (Alien8) C: Speaking of lifting the veil: here’s the new Acid Mothers Temple studio album, two very long tracks. The first is a traditional vocal, with Miss Cotton Casino singing, that goes… D: [6:25 in] There it goes now, off into the universe… Happy trails everywhere. C: For those out there who don’t know, the Acid Mothers are a Japanese psych outfit known to the acid cognoscenti for volume, trance and hair frizz. They’re on a serious far-out trip and they’re gonna do it, sometimes on the turn of the dime, whether or not anyone else is interested. I’ve seen them play a 100-person room like they were playing for the galaxy… D: This is the best-recorded AMT album I’ve ever heard! C: You can actually hear the bass beneath all the Hawkwind psych-bleeptronics and Acid Mothers “super guru” Kawabata Makoto’s super-guru-guitar guru-ifying all over the place. A proper mix, finally. [listening] Aaaaand then back down to the central melody. This is humanity at its finest: dignified—cooperative—transcendent. D: So good! I must nominate the Acid Mothers as this planet’s ambassadors to the Galactic Council!
Merzbow Last of Analog Sessions 3-CD box set (Important Records) D: Ack! What the???? Something’s wrong with the needle! C: Oh, D. So easily confused. This is Japanese noise artist Merzbow, that’s what the stuff sounds like…at first. Then you get into it. You have to listen closely. D: I will NEVER get into this! C: Well, that’s your problem. For the non-philistines out there in Arthurworld, I want to say that his packages three Merzbow albums—Catapillar, Medamaya and Springharp—recorded from ‘97-99 by Masami Akita, in his final analog tantrums before he went digital. As it says on the back of this beautiful silver-on-black package, “Akita plays Self-built junk—” D: Yeah this is junk alright— C: “—with contact mics, various filters and ring modulators, various effects pedals, EMS Synthi A synthesizer, EMS VCS3 Synthesizer, Moog Synthesizer, GR-500 Guitar Synthesizer, Tapes, EXD, Drum Machine and Oscillators.” It’s good stuff, although a little of this goes a long way and I couldn’t tell you what my favorite track is. You’ve got to be in a very certain and very open mindset to listen to this stuff, but it’s worth it. Shit is meditational, bro! D: Listen, I get this when the DVD isn’t connected right to the stereo, and that’s free of charge.
Loren Connors The Departing of a Dream Vol. III: Juliet (Family Vineyard) D: Much better. Lonesome guitars sounding occasional hopeful notes in the desert. C: It occupies its own unique space. Not quite ominous, but not settled either. Restless, haunting. Just one man doing “guitars, tapes, sounds.” D: This is what that Daniel Lanois guy wishes he could sound like. C: It’s only 30 minutes, but I swear it feels like six hours. This will slow you right down, just like yoga or a good bath or chopping vegetables… Wow. D: [asleep]
Thee Silver Mountain Reveries Pretty Little Lighting Paw (Constellation) C: Four tracks, thirty minutes. “More Action! Less Tears!” is a great title: it’s like Godspeed You! Black Emperor gone early Spiritualized, with a sense of humor. [Listening to “Microphones in the Trees”]: Now we’re getting down to the REAL anguish of the evening. Guitarist-vocalist Efrim is Wayne Coyne realizing all hope IS lost, actually and death is no comfort. But there’s this ease at the end of the song, a moment of brightness. Epiphany? Or maybe it’s just the street lights buzzing on, like in Antonioni’s L’Eclipse… D: [stirring deep into the 10-minute “Pretty Little Lightning Paw”]: What is this…? A choir from the dark stars…
Craig Taborn Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear) C: Future jazz from nowtime. Reminds me a bit of Carl Craig’s Innerzone project from a few years ago. Whatever happened with that, anyhow? Jazz and digital electronics: a treacherous and therefore unexploited frontier? Tonight at 10! D [drifting]: …Cinematic Orchestra…. C: This is heavier, swings a bit more, and goes further out, leaving the drums behind altogether. A little more intense. These are compositions, not jams, you have to follow it along. It’s cool in a tough situation.
1. Whatever generation it is now of the St. Marks Poetry Project New York School is beyond us, we stopped counting as soon as we saw Anselm Berrigan running the joint, remembering him as a kid banging around the folding chairs at the Project really not that long ago. Time flies in real time and in poet time and the last decade of young poets around that scene has been consistently engaging, though maybe exuding a transitional character that left us waiting for some kind of sick throw down. A recent publication that kind of comes very close to this is Mum Halo by New York City poet John Coletti, published by Rust Buckle Books. Coletti’s a pal of the true hearts writing, ruminating and starving around the historical churchyard on 2nd Ave and 9th street but keeps a slow and low profile. So when Anselm handed us this book we were curious, and when ripping through its pages we were left both stoned-brained and speed-slapped. Here is writing that takes the economy of word-mythos line play and evokes it with charm, humor and street sophistication. Check this out:
Because you’re patient
helping world being
less injured in it
pull up skirt hard inside
burnt my finger
putting you out
Killer, here’s another:
Like to complicate my life no I don’t
sleep all day full pail &
feather your hair grinding sea
for Texas decades, sure
I might be a fuck-up awesome fuck-up
2. The recent Jack Rose release party in Philly felt pretty cathartic for a bunch of the people who attended and it also kinda highlighted the wide breadth of style-glumph that is currently heralded as volk.
There is, of course, Jack’s own new album, Luck in the Valley (Thrill Jockey), which is a magnificent precis of his career, ranging from long raga fantasias to clackety neo-rags and stomps with Harmonica Dan, D. Charles Speer and other fellow travelers. The beauty and ease of his playing is something we will hold as a treasured memory as long as we live.
Jack’s long-time riding partner Glenn Jones also has a brilliant new album called Barbecue Bob in Fishtown (Strange Attractors Audio House), which is his best blast yet. Soloing on both guitar and banjo, Glenn’s playing has a precision and formal mastery that is jaw-dropping and so wide-ranging it’s incredible. And it’s definitely worth getting the LP version, since there’s a visual tribute contained to Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud album that is sure to crack up any knowledgeable collectors out there. I just hope he gets around to recording the Stockhausen music box pieces he’s been ruminating on for last decade or two. That would be a total gas.
One of the obsessive fanboy strands we’ve shared with Glenn over the years is the immortal Michael Hurley, and he has a smoking new LP as well. Ida Con Snock (Gnomonsong) was recorded over the course of a few years and features a mic of new & old material (as has been Hurley’s wont for a good long while.) What’s different and extremely special here is that he’s backed by the young Brooklyn folk-rock band, Ida, and also the great Tara Jane O’Neil. The gang really provides Hurley with the best backing band he’s had since Have Moicy! They usually hang back, only moving forward when it’s really appropriate, and the results are solid and as satisfying as a spliff, a jug and a warm fireplace. Hurley has the capacity to sound timeless, and he’s in rare form here, doing songs as transcendent as “Wildegeeses” and as boy howdy as “Ragg Mopp.” A massive favorite for all seasons.
Which reminds me of a show we put on in 2002 or so, where Hurley was backed on some numbers by the Philly band, Espers. That was a corker, as is Espers’ new LP, III (Drag City). Someone from the band told me they felt like this album was a holding-pattern in comparison to earlier work, but we sure don’t hear it. The CD has been stuck in the car stereo a lot lately, and the blend of Anglo-style female vocals (this time more like Celia Humpries—from the Trees—and Sandy Denny) and the male ones (which remind us of nothing so much the actually great—we swear—soft-rock of Mark-Almond and Sweet Thursday) is so fine. And the whole thing is laced with shots of guitar so goddamn psych you’ll swear they’re Japanese. But they aren’t. They’re just great.
Lastly in this category (for now) comes Peter Stampfel‘s long-overdue Dook of the Beatniks (Pietystreet Files and Archaic Media). Stampfel, of course, as half of the original Holy Modal Rounders has a pretty legitimate claim to being the founding father of the whole psych-volk shebang, so what does he do? Why he perversely records a rock & roll album with Mark Bingham producing. And it’s great, naturally—c’mon, nobody sings a song quite as crazily as Stampfel does—and contains everything from covers of obscure Johnny Cash b-sides to Sam Shepard’s “Take a Message to Omie” (Shepard was in the Rounders for a while too) and various other great damn tunes. It’s really nice that Stampfel allowed himself to take the lead on all the vocals here (something he never did in the Bottlecaps or the Rounders) and the results are extremely uplifting. You have to go online to read the fucking liner notes (similar to one of those Adelphi Rounders albums where you had to write the label to get ’em), but they’re typically fine and worth the effort. This still ain’t the exact Stampfel album we’re waiting for—back in the ’80s Ira Kaplan tried to strong-arm Peter into doing a solo LP with just voice and fiddle, and that’s the one we’re still holding our breath about. But this one’s a riot. And the cover pic of young beat Pete is wild. But hey—what happened to that album where he was gonna record a song from each year of the 20th Century? That’s due, too. Shake a leg, mofo.
3. Some superior communal and loose-tongue drone by Your Drugs My Money, a collective of peeps from all over the usa and one copenhagenite. They wrapped their heads together a couple years back in Portland and ran tape and it is deep wind-charmed fluidity, both sweet and raw. The session exists on a split tape released by oms/b tapes with Les Aus, two freaks from Barcelona who’ve been making records etc. for a while. Death trip momma Lydia Lunch shows up to intone on a track and the earth cracks open and cream gushes.
4. As it so often does, the Christmas season brought an avalanche of books about the Velvet Underground. Well, maybe not an avalanche, but THREE. And that seems like a lot for band that lost its leader (Lou Reed) 40 years ago, But we don’t wanna complain. ‘Cause the best thing is that whenever a buncha new books come out, it means there’ll be some pics we’ve never seen before. And it’s hard to think of a band that looked as consistently cool as the Velvets. The three are all by scribes we know, and each has a take somewhat reflective of author’s personality.
A Walk on the Wild Side author Jim DeRogatis
The first and most general one is A Walk on the Wild Side by Jim DeRogatis (Voyageur Press). Jim’s best known for daily newspaper work and his serviceable bio of Lester Bangs. His chief function as a rock scribe seems to be restating consensual realities, and so it is here. I mean, the book’s text is a solid introduction, but this is an intro that’s been made many times before. The volume’s raison d’etre, one assumes, is the new visuals. And it’s true—the pics look great (even though the most surprising ones now show up elsewhere as well), but the text is somewhat bland and the stuff about later solo work doesn’t carry the same charge. Still, a worthwhile filer. The Velvet Underground: New York Art by Johan Kugelberg (Rizzoli) is an outgrowth of the art catalog he did that we wrote about a couple of years ago. New York Art is a gorgeously printed, obsessive’s guide to the explosive confluence of Warhol’s scene and the Velvets. If you want a coffee-table Velvets book, this is the one to own. The text pieces are solid (an interview with both Lou and Maureen; random pieces by Bangs and Meltzer; memoirs from Rob Norris, Sterling and others) and the illustrations are pretty mind-bending. Very over-the-top, but wildly cool. White Light/White Heat (Jaw Bone Press) by Richie Unterberger: this one goes beyond obsession. It’s a day-by-day tracking of everything known about the band and their fellow travelers. And it is exhaustive. Richie has even dug up some images that eluded DeRogo and Johan, but the meat of this book is information overload. It’s the kind of book that can keep your ass glued to the toilet for days at a time. So don’t keep your copy in the bathroom. Might be hazardous to your very own ass health! Amazing work.
5. Caldera Lakes is Eva Aguila and Brittany Gould, two Los Angeles women who are displacing the Ladies of The Canyon mantle of Joni Mitchell by taking that songbird’s searching heart and massaging it against an amplified key grinder. And it is seriously killer. With a clutch of releases on Blackest Rainbow, Deathbomb Arc and 905they have proven to be one of the most arresting and savage femme noise units creepy-crawling the planet. Their latest self-titled tape on Accidie is as great as anything they’ve done, if not the greatest. Essential mayhem.
6. There are pretty many great jazz reissues and retrievals every year. People stumble over some crazy ass shit and we are goddamn happy when they deign to bring it to our attention. But it’s also fun to revisit old friends who’ve lingered in the shadows of our record collections for too long. So it was a sweet feeling to get a grey-area reissue of The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing, an LP that originally appeared on John Fahey’s Takoma label in 1967. Asked about it, Fahey would only say, “That was ED Denson’s idea!” But Nothing at this time was a Berkeley fixture and was known for wild alto sax improvisations as well as the huge book of writing and art he was always working on. Well, Charlie passed away a couple of years ago, and he recorded a bunch of interesting stuff that will hopefully see wide distribution one of these days, but this album is his first and it is a masterpiece of free improv—sax and percussion, unbridled from formal constrictions, allowed to weasel around like electrified rats. People have occasionally decried this LP in the same terms they use for Beefheart’s soprano playing (“that’s not playing—that’s just breathing!”), but we say “Fuck You,” to those who would quibble over such outmoded concepts. As Duke Ellington so famously said, “If it sounds good, it is good.” You are so right, Duke. And this Charlie Nothing album sounds GREAT.
7. Kryssi Battalene is a New Haven experimental angel who channels the sound of cosmic snowbirds through the physical friction of ferrous oxide tape against smoldering tapeheads. She also plays an astoundingly wicked guitar both traditionally and out of this world. We first saw her perform as a duo with Danny Moore in the amazing Heaven People, since disbanded, and she has been currently soloing every once in a while under the name Colorguard. She’s recorded a few weird cassettes handed off at gigs but thank the long red hair mystic Heath Moerland of Fag Tapes for releasing Shared Planet, a fine premier for this most awesome of wild improv enchantress.
8. Excellent to be able to screen Shout Factory‘s new, super clean DVD of the great American International teenage rock & roll spectacular, The T.A.M.I. Show. The older of us actually saw this screamfest at a movie theater when it came out in ’64, and it was amazing. The weirdest part of it may be the soundtrack, which has a persistent teen-scream huzz which (from the look of the crowd) is something that was tacked on to provide extra energy or somesuch. But the film doesn’t need it. Between the gyrations of the go-go girls (including Teri Garr and Tosi Basil back when they were part of Wallace Berman’s circle), the wild performances of the musicians (James Brown, the Stones, the Barbarians, Chuck Berry, etc.) and goofy MCing by the superb surf duo, Jan & Dean (the first group whose records I collected seriously). It is an insane blend and a testament to the heterogeneity of the early ’60s R&R experience, when the underground and commercial scenes were virtually interchangeable (apart from the creepy singers pushed by publishers and producers). This was shot at the Santa Monica Civic, and the tickets were given away free to local high schools. What a bonus fucking day that must’ve been.
9. One of the great small press poetry publishers, O Books, out of Oakland CA, issued in 1989 the first English translation of It Then, a book of poems by the late French poet Danielle Collobert. Collobert is little known outside the rabid circle of enthusiasts for her minimalist, self erasing style, but she has an intriguing history. Born in 1940, she published her first book of poems, Chant de Guerres (Song of Wars), in 1960, then hunted down every extant copy and destroyed them.
She became a political activist involved with publishing the Revolution Africaine newsletter. She published the Raymond Queneau-championed book Muerte (Murder) in 1964, traveled extensively, wrote and performed radio plays, published Il Donc (It Then) in 1976, and committed suicide in her hotel room in Paris the night before her birthday July 24, 1978. Collobert possessed a dark and romantic visage, especially evident when one notices her jacket photo with its downward gaze and the sensual sadness of her beauty. Her work astounds, moving across the page with a sonance both velvet and machine-gun like. The translation allows us to access her meaning, but the poetry here is compromised by not hearing the sound of the writer’s language. Even so, the thought process, the artistry of the trajectory, comes clear—and it is not always pretty. In fact it can be pretty frightening, detailing emotional negotiations with the poison of inhumanity as well as the living psychology of being female, indeed being REAL.
It – flows – it bangs itself – slammed into walls – it picks itself up – stamps feet – it doesn’t go far – four steps to the left – new wall – it extends its arms – leans – leans hard – rubs its head – again – harder – forehead – there – the forehead – hurts – rubs harder – becomes inflamed – not the forehead – from within – cries
good start for the pain – head between arms – forehead against wall – and rubbing – skin breaks open a little – not enough – ooh the pain – there it is – feet kicking the wall down low – go on – with the toes – striking hard – thrashing – nothing to be done – doesn’t subside – never will subside – the rage – the pain – cries – hits with flat hands – dull noise – a cry – here a cry – no gasp – a little above a gasp – in shrillness – here it comes – collects at the back of the throat – what’s going to come out – still below the pain – not enough
sobs shaken – saliva at lips’ edge – bitter taste – slides a little towards the corner – nose smashing – lips – the lips twisted sideways – pulled back to the gums – moistening the wall – eyes closed – stomach and chest flattened – unsticks – comes back harder – sharp impact of shoulders – unsticks – comes back again with elbows with knees – bangs fists – fists’ backs – to the bone – starts over – skin reddens – rips at last – it falls – doubled up – dragging arms stretched along the wall – kept vertical by ends of fingernails – it collapses – impact of back – head rings on wooden floor – it pushes up onto its elbow – drags along the wall – reaches hung-up coat – hangs onto – hoists itself – buries its head in the wool – grabs the arms – holds the end of the sleeves tight – overlaps them around neck – expecting softness – but no – squeezes hard – chokes – coughs into tears – chokes – lets go – hangs onto cloth – pulls hard to rip – rips with all its strength – tears pieces with its teeth – spits – chokes – arms fall back down – sinks down – slips onto the ground
a body there – practicing pain – as if it hadn’t had enough of this suffering – at each moment – in floods – in vast wave – trying pathetically to practice it
body striking – disfiguring its limbs with the too full pain – which body sudden empty – which violence against – about empty – pain congealed at last – wanting to reach it to set it once and for all – to keep it there motionless – or set it down in front of it – itself – to make it really visible – in its infinitely numerous images – unceasingly
a body there – no – that body there – the one banging its face against the wall – maybe – no
walls fictive also – unnecessary walls – no – only to see from the place of the present invisible – here – facing the stripped body – arms motionless yet sweeping around in space without meeting anything to lean on – temporary connection – just for an instant – to slow the breathing down – slow down the beating – to quiet down – this body seeking the place – the hollow in which to melt back down again – heat ruptured – and cold of the world around – its place or position unsure to inscribe against the lack – the shocks of the day
10. So many boss records floating through here, really have to just randomize & roll. Talk Normal‘s debut full-length, Sugarland (Rare Book Room) is a blazing extension of their earlier EPs. Their basic heft (UK ’78 DIY/No Wave squall) remains in places, but it is swamped by a new, venomous psychedelic thrust mixed with a post-scum instrumental chiming that is ridiculously effective. And their Roxy Music cover is as perfectly imagined as anything you’ve ever heard.
Then there’s the new album by Pete Nolan’s main non-Magik Markers project, Spectre Folk. Their second LP is called Compass, Blanket, Lantern, Mojo (Arbitrary Signs), which I suppose are the four main points on Pete’s aesthetic compass. Less massed and grueling than the Markers, this band’s sound is far more ramblesome and loosely psychedelic. Largely instrumental and as low-key as it is wasted, the LP wiggles beautifully from the instant it hits yr veins.
One of last year’s most profoundly underrated LPs was definitely Bats in the Dead Trees Parts I-IV (Lost Treasure of the Underworld) by Columbus, Ohio’s Cheater Slicks. This superb band—once based in Boston—has been churning brilliantly for a couple of decades now, and has created some of the world’s most tasty garage raunch in the process. Here they take the challenge and drop structure for an album’s worth of howling free-rock improv, and it sounds so fucking perfect, I just hope a whole lot of garage dudes/dudettes decide now’s the time to put up their own dukes and just LET ONE FLY. Would make for a lotta totally ginchy listening! Thank you, Cheater Slicks.
One band that was born in the land that form forgot was Detroit’s Destroy All Monsters. And luckily for us, Cary Loren has whipped out some expanded jams first presented in edited form in the 1974-1976 3CD box, and smeared them across a glorious slab of vinyl called Double Sextet (The End Is Here/Compound Annex). Yow. Only 500 pressed of this 33-minute chunk of free-form savagery, recorded in 1975, and it’s an instant classic.
Also instantaneous is the garage-vom-darkness of the long-lost LP by Michael & the Mumbles (De Stijl), a ’66 midwest session led by the teenaged Michael Yonkers. The band’s sound contains elements of frat-romp, folk-rock and pure-garage-fuzz, but the blend is definitely tentative and the sound quality is on a par with Justice albums of the era. Very cool, but only essential if you’re already a head. Which we are. But was this actually released at the time? We’d never even heard rumors of its existence. What the fuh?
Last brain-fugger this time out will have to be Major Stars‘ Return to Form (Drag City). We think it’s their second for the label, but our Drag City service is too spotty to be certain (hint hint). Regardless, we have loved this band’s core (Wayne, Kate and Tom) through decades and every combo mutation they’ve fronted. The Major Stars express more explosive improv gush here than they’ve done on some other LPs (they sometimes feel more like a live band than a studio one, which’s the opposite of some of their precursors), but the balance—as always—in the Major Stars rests on the balance of the instrumental frontline’s grotesque sonic overload and the massed rock-drive of the other players & singers. Sounds fucking incredible this time out (yin/yang energy up the ass), and the cover art by Bill Nace is as beautiful as a foot.
Alright. Gotta get this posted.
If you want some aktion, please send two (2) identical copies of yr object (archaic formats always appreciated) to:
curated and designed by DEVENDRA BANHART
Available direct from Arthur: the acclaimed 2004 compilation of current underground folk music, as selected by Devendra Banhart.
This is more than a compilation–it’s expertly sequenced and paced, like one long, slow flow of a particularly rich vibe. Liner notes are by the artists themselves, paying tribute to each other, all handlettered by Devendra, who also provides artwork on cover, back cover, sleeve, tray and the disk itself.
“Essential.” — Mojo, September 2004
“Sparkling.” — The Wire, July 2004
“8.6 (out of 10): [Its] sprawling landscape presents a persuasive case for the depth of a scene that seemingly sprung up (like mushrooms) overnight.” — Pitchfork, July 8, 2004
1. Vetiver (with Hope Sandoval) – “Angel’s Share” (from the “Vetiver” LP)
2. Joanna Newsom – “Bridges and Balloons” (from “The Milk-Eyed Mender” LP)
3. Six Organs of Admittance – “Hazy SF” (previously unreleased)
4. Viking Moses – “Crosses” (from “Crosses”)
5. Josephine Foster – “Little Life” (prev. unreleased home recording)
6. Espers – “Byss & Abyss” (from “Espers” LP)
7. Vashti Bunyan & Devendra Banhart – “Rejoicing in the Hands” (from the “Rejoicing in the Hands of the Golden Empress” LP)
8. Jana Hunter – “Farm, CA” (prev. unreleased)
9. Currituck Co. – “The Tropics of Cancer” (from “Ghost Man on First”)
10. White Magic – “Don’t Need” (from the Drag City EP)
11. Iron and Wine – “Fever Dream” (from “Our Endless Numbered Days” LP)
12. Diane Cluck – ” Heat From Every Corner” (from “Macy’s Day Bird” LP)
13. Matt Valentine – “Mountains of Yaffa” (previously unreleased)
14. Entrance – “You Must Turn” (prev. unreleased home recording)
15. Jack Rose – “White Mule” (from “Red Horse, White Mule”)
16. Little Wings – “Look at What the Light Did Now” (from “Light Green Leaves”)
17. Scout Niblett – “Wet Road” (from “Sweet Heart Fever”)
18. Troll – “Mexicana” (from “Pathless Lord”)
19. CocoRosie – “Good Friday” (from “La Maison de Mon Reve”)
20. Antony – “The Lake” (from “Live at Saint Olaye’s With Current 93”)
Go to the ARTHUR STORE to order direct from Arthur via PayPal, credit card or debit card.
BULK ORDERS: Contact Arthur staff (editor at arthurmag dot com) for quote.
If you have never scoped out the subtropical vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, August promises to be a sublime time to do so–and not only because its high altitudes provide natural relief against the summer heat. Asheville’s Harvest Records–part independent record shop, part record label, part curatorial team– will mark its fifth birthday with a three-day, multi-venue musical gathering, bringing in over a dozen artists from across the nation to celebrate the organization’s dual commitment to musical awareness and community-building in Western North Carolina. “Transfigurations,” co-owner Mark Capon explains, “brings together the spirits of the musicians that we have brought to this city, the artists who have displayed on our walls, the sounds people have found in our shop, and the togetherness that we have attempted to breathe into the community…hour by hour, day by day.” Featured acts include Akron/Family, Bonnie Prince Billy, The Books, Budos Band, Circulatory System, Mount Eerie, Espers, War on Drugs, Brightblack Morning Light, Kurt Vile, Ice Cream, Jonathan Kane, Coathangers, Villages, and Steve Gunn, along with a Saturday-afternoon panel discussion on musical documentation in the digital age by Eric Isaacson (Mississippi Records), Lance Ledbetter (Dust-to-Digital label), and Nathan Salsburg (Twos & Fews Records/Alan Lomax Archive).
2037 Frankford Avenue (enter around back on Sepviva Street)
Philadelphia, PA 19125
suggested donation $5 * bring your own whatsits
inappropriate weather moves show indoors to the music parlor
This will be the Philadelphia debut of the Toronto-based country-folk songwriter best known as half of the Will Oldham-championed Dark Hand and Lamplight, a live performance collaboration with visual artist Shary Boyle which features Boyle creating live drawings and animating pre-drawn images on an overhead projector while Mr. Paisley sings and plays guitar.
Tonight, Doug will be playing songs from his gem of a debut album, released late last year on No Quarter Records, as well as new songs. Doug’s first LP, an enduring favorite at Arthur Philly HQ , garnered four stars from Andrew Male at Mojo magazine, who saluted its “lilting melodies, comforting Guy Clark drawl, and lazy Bearsville arrangements… [There’s] nagging details within these love songs of union and division—great fireballs, waves rising up, birds falling from the sky, unimaginable things buried in the ground, deeds that can’t be undone, cold, soundless rain and something on the horizon ‘we will surely see coming/in the wide open plain.’ This mood of prophesy and foreboding lends Paisley’s debut an eerie power and strength, meaning that as you return to his charming and enchanting country melodies—and you will —they’ll continue to throw up their weird details, glinting symbols of doom on the horizon of the American west.”
And here’s Mike Wolf in Time Out New York: “Comparisons between musicians usually do a disservice to all involved, but ignoring the minor detail of one sui generis decades-long career, Doug Paisley and Neil Young share many key traits. Both are Canadian and have a grasp of American roots-music traditions so deep you’d think it comes from their bones. More important, Paisley, like Young and few other singer-songwriters, has the power of immediate communication: When he opens his mouth, you believe him utterly—that he has crossed the rivers, climbed the mountains, come through the fires, lived every molecule of what he sings.
“Paisley’s self-titled album is last year’s most extravagantly unadorned piece of music: plain as dirt and direct as sunlight, and no less elemental. “Frost leaves a sign on your window/Now you know the summer’s been and gone/You wonder when you’ll see another one/Where did the sweet love go?” he sings on “A Day Is Very Long,” fan-dancing the profound behind the mundane. There are few highs and lows in Paisley’s economical songs; he’s whittled out his space in the middles, where all the forethought and aftermath that sandwich life’s big events go on, though gravity and shadow loom toward the edge of the sky.
“While his album is gorgeously spare—bass, drum and backing vocals on some songs, plus his guitar and keyboards—Paisley will be playing solo at these shows, which is only fitting for the purest voice to come down the pike in ages.”
“Epic martian love call transmitted by steel strings & flanger” is how this frequent MV & EE collaborator and Child of Microtones scene member, now based in Philadelphia, describes what he’ll be playing tonight. Willie’s just-out LP, Known Quantity (Cord Art), is a favorite in many houses. Arthur Magazine “Bull Tongue” columnists Byron Coley and Thurston Moore call it “a total blast. Willie’s mostly solo (save for some licks by Samara Lubelski) and his playing ranges from Wizz Jones power-pluck at its cleanest to Michael Chapman electro-smear at its phasingest. But Willie knows his stuff cold and this instrumental slide through the gates of Neverland is one of this year’s great rides.”
This New York City-based singer/writer/guitarist, best known for her work in Silver Summit, will open the evening with what she calls “a loosely fingerstyle guitar & vocal set conjuring rain…big sad drops of water with dark, hazy, haunting song clouds that speak of death, love, parting, and paradise. ”
Variety Arthur Nights (Palace Theater; 1,967 capacity; $24, one night; $80, four night pass) Presented by Spaceland and Arthur Magazine.
Performers: Devendra Banhart, Bert Jansch, Espers, Buffalo Killers, Jackie Beat, Axolotl, Grouper, Yellow Swans, Belong, Numero Uno DJs. Reviewed Oct. 19, 2006. Also (with different line ups) Oct 20-22.
By STEVEN MIRKIN You have to hand it to the publishers of Arthur Magazine. The (more or less) monthly [solidly bimonthly, actually-Ed.] is not only one of the most interesting reads out there — a consistently surprising mix of truly underground music, politics and art — but in a little over a year (with an assist from local club Spaceland) they’ve become a force on the Los Angeles concert scene, staging three multi-stage festivals that impress with their almost impossibly broad and well-chosen line-ups.
Arthur Nights is their latest offering, and the four-day event (held on two stages in the somewhat decrepit grandeur of downtown’s Palace Theater) once again covers a wildly eclectic range of music, with Thursday’s opening night line-up focusing on the “freak folk” movement the magazine has championed. As Noah Georgeson, producer and guitarist for headliner Devendra Banhart told the young and rapt aud, “We’re seriously laid back.” The evening’s three most intriguing main stage acts — Philadelphia psychedelic folkies Espers, guitar legend Bert Jansch and Banhart — rarely raised their voices or pushed the tempo, but each managed to make a distinct and satisfying impression.
With Meg Baird and Helena Espvall’s wispy, ethereal harmonies, Espers often has an eerie, otherworldly beauty. Their songs (from their most recent album “II” on Drag City) build slowly, almost imperceptibly, turning freer and more psychedelic as they go on; stretched out, they reach for a raga-like transcendence. At other times, when Greg Weeks adds his voice and plays the recorder, the songs sound like a stranger Jefferson Airplane crossed with touches of Fairport Convention and the Stooges.
They were followed by Jansch, who played the most satisfying set of the evening. His captivating mix of traditional folk and modern styles hasn’t changed much — the songs on his latest, “Black Swan” (Drag City) sound timeless. His playing looks almost effortless, but lattice-like interplay between his finger-picking and the movement of his left hand on the fret-board creates a cascade of notes is so sweeping, the counterpoint of melody and accompaniment so intricate, it’s hard to believe that the sounds are coming from one man.
Jansch was warmly received — members of the aud even whooped and applauded when he changed tunings on this guitar. A good deal of the credit for Jansch’s revival can be laid at the feet of Banhart. Jansch repaid the compliment and joined Banhart for two songs during the latter’s set, and “My Pocket’s Empty” had a focus and energy that was missing from most of the headliner’s set.
Banhart is an intriguing figure: with his long hair and beard he could have stepped from a late ’60s Laurel Canyon photo, and the early portion of the show, with three guitars and four-part harmonies, didn’t stray too far from folk cliches. But his music has a much broader reach, although the often feckless presentation blunts his ambition.
With his quivery, high-pitched vocals and Georgeson’s squirrelly guitar, the music often feels like a less jazzy version of Tim Buckley’s “Happy/Sad” (or, in the case of “Heard Somebody Say,” John Lennon’s “Oh My Love”), with Banhart presenting himself as a shamanistic seducer. In “At the Hop,” he wants his lover to “pack me your suitcase/cook me in your breakfast/light me with your candle/wrap me with your bones.”
The latter part of the set, when he stands up and straps on an electric guitar, starts to move further afield, as the music takes on touches of reggae, rock and, in a cover of Caetano Veloso’s “Lost in the Paradise,” bossa nova. But the entire set feels too meandering and laden with ideas that are too coy for their own good, including bringing up a member of the aud onstage to perform and an impromptu imitation of Al Jolson.
As might be expected from an Arthur evening, there were other styles of music to explore. Buffalo Killers opened the main stage perfs with a set of well worn, if well-played sludgy blues rock; an update of ’70s dinosaurs Mountain or Cactus. But they could surprise with a cover of Neil Young’s “Homegrown.” In the upstairs loft (accessible by an ancient manually operated elevator or a twisty staircase right out of a ’40s film noir mystery) Axolotl played an intriguing mix of tribal sounds with treated guitars and Grouper — a man [Actually, Grouper is a woman-Ed.], a guitar and a fuzz box — initially sounded like a noisy blare but his layers of feedback slowly built to something quiescently lovely.
Fringe-minded Arthur fest enlivens Broadway with a focus on folk.
By Richard Cromelin Times Staff Writer
October 21, 2006
“I’d like to thank the cockroach who joined me for that one,” Greg Weeks said Thursday after his band Espers finished a song during the opening concert of the Arthur Nights festival. Weeks had been visited by the insect as he crouched on the stage floor with his electronic keyboard, adding some spacey trills to a folk ballad by the Philadelphia-based group.
Such are the perils of commandeering a faded downtown movie and vaudeville emporium on short notice. But despite this and other small drawbacks, the Palace Theatre on South Broadway proved to be a harmoniously funky setting for the most ambitious yet of Arthur magazine’s extravaganzas of esoterica.
Of the nearly 50 performers scheduled to play over four days through Sunday, only Devendra Banhart, who brought Thursday’s show to a joyous peak, and the Fiery Furnaces, on deck to play Sunday, have what would be considered substantial drawing power beyond the cult level.
So it’s remarkable that in the city where England’s similarly designed All Tomorrow’s Parties failed to establish an outpost after a couple of tries, Arthur has now mounted three significant showcases of fringe music in little more than a year.
Jarring juxtaposition is usually the operating principle, and it’s in force over much of the weekend, but the heart of Thursday’s concert amounted to a themed program spotlighting various facets of the underground folk movement.
Los Angeles-based Banhart is the standard-bearer for this thriving scene, but his hour-plus performance Thursday took him far beyond the acoustic roots and the image of the eccentric sprite that won his initial following.
His set progressed from light, lilting shuffles buoyed by four- and five-voice harmonies by his band members through classic folk-rock (David Crosby’s “Traction in the Rain,” Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”) to some hard-driving, rhythm-heavy versions of favorites from the Banhart songbook.
At the end, with the crowd finally on its feet, the strikingly dark-suited, dark-bearded singer was shaking maracas à la Jagger on “I Feel Like a Child,” and looking like a rock-star-to-be.
But the most Arthurian moment came earlier in the set, when Scottish folk-music icon Bert Jansch joined Banhart and his band for two songs.
Though it was a bit of a no-brainer (Banhart sang on Jansch’s new album, “The Black Swan,” and his guitarist Noah Georgeson produced the record), it was the kind of special mix you hope for at a festival such as this.
And the pairing conveyed a sweet sense of community and continuity as the generations met for “My Pocket’s Empty,” from the new album, and a song from Jansch’s influential ’60s-’70s folk-rock band Pentangle.
Jansch, who has been hailed as a hero by an army of rock guitarists, preceded Banhart with the kind of solo performance he’s been doing for decades. But he usually plays tiny rooms such as McCabe’s on his infrequent visits to the area, so this larger setting was a welcome showcase for his restrained virtuosity and modest personality.
Always aiming for harmonic invention and emotional statement rather than empty flashiness, Jansch, 62, moved from traditional folk songs to blues to originals, adding some political weight with “Let Me Sing,” about Chilean martyr Victor Jara, and “The Old Triangle,” about capital punishment in Ireland.
Espers are inheritors of Jansch’s pioneering work, and the sextet preceded him with a chamber-folk performance whose female vocals suggested both Pentangle and the Incredible String Band.
And what about the famous Arthur eclecticism? Well, drag performer Jackie Beat followed Banhart with a short set, and the main showroom opened with the heavy, power-trio riffing of Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers.
Arthur Nights was originally planned for the Echo and its new sister club the EchoPlex, but when the latter encountered construction delays, it was moved to the 1,050-capacity Palace, which was colorfully thronged Thursday by a coalition of scenemakers and serious-music geeks.
They discovered that the theater’s second stage is on the fifth floor, requiring a ride in an antique elevator or a walk up many steps.
But the room, with its art-space feel, large windows and bean-bag chairs, was a perfect setting to bask in the experiments of such noise manipulators as Axolotl and Grouper.
And things figure to get much more eclectic these final two days, with Beastie Boys associate Money Mark and the Sun Ra Arkestra sharing the bill tonight with folkies White Magic and Six Organs of Admittance. Sunday’s highlight looks to be the rare solo performance by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio.